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Katharine Ordway’s Peaceful Preserve

Katharine Ordway was one of those very wealthy, very impressive, semi-mysterious people who lived quietly among us, back in the day.

Her father bought 60% of the stock of a struggling mining company later known as 3M — not a bad career move. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota with degrees in botany and art, and later studied biology and land-use planning at Columbia.

Katharine Ordway was equally at home in social settings and outdoors.

Katharine Ordway was equally at home in social settings and outdoors.

After inheriting part of an $18.8 million estate — real money in 1948 — she became (according to Macalester College) second only to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as “a private contributor to natural area conservation in American history.”

The quiet woman  helped save over 31,000 acres of Great Plains prairies, a few Hawaiian islands, and land in many other parts of the country. She is revered by the Nature Conservancy for her philanthropy, commitment and foresight.

She lived for decades in a beautiful home off Goodhill Road in Weston. Today, 62 acres behind her estate comprise the Katharine Ordway Preserve. It’s wooded, riparian (the Saugatuck River runs through it), and very peaceful.

It’s also a secret. Though it was opened in 1979 — the year she died — even some neighbors don’t know it’s there.

A spirited group of nature-lovers do, though. Working with the Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter, they’ve contributed hundreds of man (and woman) hours to the preserve. They’ve cleared brush, removed invasive species, planted specimen trees, created a 2-acre arboretum, and cleaned trails.

Now they want local residents to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The view from a trail high in the Ordway Preserve.

The view from a trail high in the Ordway Preserve.

The other day, Westporter Bob Fatherley invited me to hike the preserve. We were joined by a few others, including Alec Head of Westport; the Conservancy’s David Gumbart, and Mark Mainieri, the property’s steward.

I learned about the legend of Fred Moore. He was Katharine Ordway’s estate caretaker — as well as Weston’s tree warden and fire marshal.

As we walked, the men talked about the many contributors to the restoration of the preserve. They spoke with pride of the 20 trees donated by Weston Gardens, and the pro bono work provided by Weston Arborists (owned by Fred Moore’s son Jeff).

Hiking the Ridge Trail.

Hiking the Ridge Trail.

The arboretum is particularly impressive. Now rid of high brush and invasive plants, it’s a serene habitat for birds and butterflies. (The preserve also hosts deer, coyotes, and plenty of wild turkeys.)

They talked reverently of Katharine Ordway (who endowed not only this preserve, but also Devil’s Den). “She was a woman of means, but also a woman of the earth,” Bob said. “She was one of the first people to take private capital, and make it work for open space.”

“This is a spot of spiritual refreshment,” Bob added. “It is humbling to take care of it.”

A plaque honors Katharine Ordway.

A plaque honors Katharine Ordway.

Katharine Ordway’s ashes were scattered at her favorite site — a place she visited every October, to enjoy spectacular foliage. It’s high on a hill surrounded by mountain laurel, near a large boulder that bears a plaque. Soon, the Nature Conservancy hopes, a small bench will allow hikers to sit and honor the woman who worked so hard to preserve this land, and hundreds of thousands of other acres around the country.

Katharine’s imprint on the American conservation movement remains large. And — although most of us don’t know it — it is especially strong in the town Katharine Ordway called home.

Literally, in her own back yard.

(The Katharine Ordway Preserve is located at 165 Goodhill Road in Weston. It is open from dawn to dusk — no bikes or pets, though. Note that the base of the entrance is severely rutted!)

Some of the preserve's most ardent supporters, at Kay's Trail. From left: Bob Fatherley, David Gumbart, Lou Bregy, Dave Thompson, Alec Head and Mark Mainieri.

Some of the preserve’s most ardent supporters. From left: Bob Fatherley, David Gumbart, Lou Bregy, Dave Thompson, Alec Head and Mark Mainieri.

Chip Stephens And Al Gratrix: Westport’s Newest “De-signers”

The town ordinance on signs is pretty clear.

Local organizations can post them for fundraisers: Library book sales, Yankee Doodle Fair, Sunrise Rotary duck race.

Political signs are okay — during election season. As with charity signs, they must be removed promptly.

no signsCommercial signs are strictly regulated. They must be portable. They can’t be attached to a utility pole or fence. They can be displayed only during hours that a business is open. They must be on a “framed chalk board or eraser board.” All of the wording must be hand-drawn. And commercial signs must be located on the property where the business is located.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Anyone with more than 20/2000 vision knows those rules are frequently flouted. Several years ago — in the depths of the recession — 1st Selectman Gordon Joseloff eased the sign regulation. But the ordinance in place now — cited above — is pretty clear.

Al Gratrix is head of the Planning and Zoning Commission‘s enforcement committee. Chip Stephens is the the P&Z chair.

A couple of weeks ago, they started picking up illegal signs. They pulled 100 or so: non-handwritten business signs. Signs advertising office space. Signs for roofers and handymen, tacked 8 feet high on telephone polls.

Al Gratrix with some of the illegal signs.

Al Gratrix with some of the illegal signs…

Just as quickly, the signs reappeared.

Al and Chip went back on the prowl. On Saturday, they yanked 80 more.

Their task may be Sisyphean. (Or, to use a truer Westport reference, dandlelion-esque.)

But it’s an important one. Want to know one of the biggest blights on Westport’s beauty?

The signs are all around us.

...and more signs.

…and more signs.

 

August Laska Is GLAAD To Help

As a student at Staples, August Laska produced benefit concerts for Red Cross Haiti relief, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

August Laska

August Laska

Before entering Middlebury College last January, he spent the fall as executive intern at a Broadway production company.

Now — working this summer at a different production firm — he’s combining his talent and skills for a new benefit.

On Monday, August 4 (7:30 p.m.), Joe’s Pub hosts “Broadway Gets GLAAD”: 10 stars providing a night of music. All proceeds benefit GLAAD, an organization fighting for positive gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender images in the media.

August is definitely stepping onto a bigger stage.

Mia Gentile

Mia Gentile

He and co-producer Kayla Greenspan have booked an all-star cast. It includes Mia Gentile — the 2007 Staples grad now starring in Forbidden Broadway — along with Marja Harmon (Book of Mormon), Ciara Renée (Pippin) and others. They’ll perform a variety of Broadway classics, old favorites and pop tunes.

All are working for free. “That’s not easy,” August notes. “Actors always like to get paid.”

In addition to helping select the singers and songs, August booked the venue. Joe’s Pub is one of the top spots in New York for shows like this.

GLAAD is an organization close to August’s heart.

“The Broadway community closely connected with gay issues,” the former Staples Players star says. “Instead of just giving money to a good cause, having an event like this is a great way to help promote accurate, diverse representation of LGBT people in the entertainment world.”

(For more information on “Broadway Gets GLAAD,” and to purchase tickets, click here.)

Broadway Gets GLAAD

 

 

 

Westport’s Horrific Trolley Crash: 100 Years Ago Yesterday

Exactly 100 years ago yesterday — on July 22, 1914 — Westport suffered one of its worst tragedies ever.

But until “06880” reader Mary Palmieri Gai pointed it out, I’d never heard of it.

On that day — a Wednesday — a horrendous, high-speed head-on collision between a 3-car trolley and a freight trolley killed 4 people, and seriously injured 21.

The front page of the Meriden Weekly Republican.

The front page of the Meriden Weekly Republican.

It took place at the intersection of State Street (now Post Road West) and King Street (now Riverside Avenue). The Meriden Weekly Republican called it “a deep curve on a down grade.”

Many of the trolley’s 279 passengers were children, returning to East Bridgeport from a church picnic at Norwalk’s Roton Point. The dead were between 11 and 21 years old.

The Republican said the accident occurred when the motorman of the passenger trolley “put on all speed while going downhill in an endeavor to reach a siding before the arrival of the trolley freight, which he knew was coming.”

According to the New York Times, both cars were “telescoped for four or five feet.” The 4 dead were all in the front seat. Westport medical examiner Dr. Frank Powers called it “a miracle” that not more were killed.

The Republican added, “the air was filled with splinters and dust….a panic ensued after the crash. The shrieks and groans of the injured could be heard for blocks.”

In the early 20th century, trolleys were an important part of Westport transportation. This is the terminal at Compo Beach.

In the early 20th century, trolleys were an important part of Westport transportation. This is the terminal at Compo Beach.

Injured passengers helped others. Mrs. Robert Wakelee — who suffered broken legs and broken thighs — threw 2 children from the floor to the ground outside. Moments later, debris from the roof landed where the youngsters had lain.

Howard Taylor, who lived nearby, lifted a dozen people from the wreckage.

Every doctor in the area was summoned. Ambulances and private cars sped to Norwalk Hospital.

Mary Palmieri Gai adds one last piece of news: Among the injured — suffering from a broken nose and shock — was Lillian Abbott of Providence, Rhode Island.

Just 2 years earlier, she had survived the sinking of Titanic.

Bridgewater Stays Put — For Now

So Bridgewater Associates is not moving to Stamford after all.

Westport’s biggest employer — a hedge fund that manages $120 billion in global investments — has decided that despite $115 million in tax incentives offered by Gov. Malloy,  it will not move its 1,225 employees to a controversial site in Stamford.

(The controversy, in case you have not been paying attention to corporate welfare news, is 3-fold: the site in the South End would displace a large boatyard; it might have violated the state’s Coastal Management Act, and Gov. Malloy is the former [cough cough] mayor of Stamford.)

Bridgewater’s employees are spread among 2 sites here. Some work at Nyala Farms off I-95 Exit 18, but the majority are in the gorgeous Glendinning site on Weston Road. (That’s why you see upscale buses traveling up and down Roseville Road every morning and afternoon.)

The Bridgewater building on Weston Road. Most Westporters have no idea it's here.

The Bridgewater building on Weston Road. Most Westporters have no idea it’s here.

That Glendinning office is truly a gem. Hidden from view (except on the Ford Road side), it’s serene and verdant. I can’t imagine a nicer hedge fund environment anywhere.

What will Bridgewater do now? Perhaps renovate the property. (Keeping in mind — we hope — the restrictions agreed upon when it was built more than 40 years ago, as a rare office complex in a residential neighborhood. Glendinning was a major marketer, when Westport was the marketing capital of the world.)

Perhaps add a “meditation area.” (Founder Ray Dalio does things other hedge fund owners don’t.)

Perhaps Bridgewater will keep looking for a new site.

Whatever they do, let’s hope they don’t ask for a $115 million subsidy from the state.

Or even $15.

That’s the kind of thing that gives hedge funds a bad name.

 

 

Remembering Bob Farris

Bob Farris died last month. He passed away in the arms of his beloved wife Linda.

The names may be unfamiliar to Westporters. But when you see their photos, you’ll recognize them instantly:

Linda and Bob Farris, at one of their favorite spots.

Linda and Bob Farris, at one of their favorite spots.

And you’ll know too that “loving partners” doesn’t begin to describe the couple.

They were fixtures at Compo Beach. They walked slowly, Linda supporting her much bigger husband.

Many people did not know their names. But they were a friendly couple, and nearly everyone on the beach stopped and chatted.

Linda did most of the talking. It was difficult for Bob to speak. But he smiled, and engaged you. They were part of what makes Westport — particularly the beach — such a wonderful community.

In his last 3 years, Bob met his challenges with elegance and dignity. That’s no surprise to those who know his back story.

He was a West Point graduate.

But he was no normal cadet. He graduated 1st in his class.

He was a football star. Bob captained the 1954 team. He was a lineman who went both ways. He was blinded in one eye the entire 2nd half of the Navy game, yet never came out.

Bob Farris (left) and an Army teammate, with President Eisenhower at the White House.

Bob Farris (left) and an Army teammate, with President Eisenhower at the White House.

General Douglas MacArthur lauded his play and academic standing. Coach Red Blaik called Bob a leader who instilled the “Will to Win.” On 3 successive Saturdays he was voted national Lineman of the Week.

Bob — an Alabama native — and Linda met at Hebrew University, where Bob was engaged in long-range planning. He loved Jerusalem and Israel. It will be his final resting place.

But Westport was dear to his heart too.

“Bob’s ability to enjoy life was enhanced by the encouragement and support of so many people at the beach,” Linda says.

“Some are friends whose names we know. Others are strangers with whom we shared great conversations. Their smiles and good energy gave Bob the confidence to walk just one more time around the Point.

“Words cannot describe the gratitude we felt then, and which I continue to feel now,” Linda adds. “Compo Beach is where Bob and I spent such happy days. What better place to celebrate his life?”

What better place indeed. All who knew Bob — by sight and smile, if not by name — are invited to a celebration at 10 a.m. this Sunday (June 29, near the west end).

Bob’s West Point classmate Bob Sorley — a noted intelligence analyst and military historian — will speak. An honor guard will honor Bob. Bagpipes will play.

And we’ll all smile — sadly, wistfully, Westport-ily — as we look around and remember Bob. and the beach he and Linda loved.

Greens Farms Elementary School teacher and noted musician Suzanne Sherman Propp wrote and recorded “Holding Hands” in 2009, for a wedding of friends. The beautiful song was inspired by Bob and Linda — and includes a photo of them.

 

Remembering Ruth Bedford

An era has ended.

Ruth Bedford — the last surviving grandchild of Edward T. Bedford, who was a director of Standard Oil, the founder of the Westport Family Y and namesake of Bedford Middle School — died Saturday. She was 99.

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this Westport Y event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this Westport Y event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

Ruth died 2 days before the 90th annual meeting of the Y — the last to be held in the original Bedford Building. When the Y moves to Mahackeno in September, the downtown site will be replaced by a retail/residential complex called, fittingly, Bedford Square.

Ruth was also a longtime supporter of the Y. She was a trustee for many years, and at her death continued as a trustee emeriti. In her younger days, she was also an avid sailor and pilot.

According to the Y, Ruth volunteered with American Red Cross in World War II, and was stationed in England during bombings. 

Like her sister Lucie Briggs Cunningham Warren, Ruth was a major supporter of the Norwalk Hospital, and many other local charitable causes. 

Her sister died 2 years ago, at 104. Ruth’s niece, Lucie Cunningham McKinney, died last month, age 80.

When Ruth’s sister Lucie died in in 2012, “06880” posted these recollections from Charlie Taylor. In honor of the remarkable Bedford family, we publish it again:

I worked as a landscape gardener and laborer for Ruth Bedford and her father Fred (Edward T. Bedford’s son) on their Beachside Avenue estate from 1958 — when I was a Staples sophomore — until I graduated from college in 1965. What a great place to work!

Edward T. Bedford -- Ruth's grandfather -- built an enormous estate on Beachside Avenue.

Edward T. Bedford — Ruth’s grandfather — built an enormous estate on Beachside Avenue.

My dad had encouraged me to go to Nyala Farms to get a job at the dairy, as a 15-year-old. (NOTE:  The 52-acre farm, now bordered by Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector, had been owned since 1910 by the Bedford family. Fred Bedford named it after the beautiful “nyala” — antelope — he’d seen on safari in Africa.)

Louis Gordon — chief gardener and estate caretaker — intercepted me. He told me to report on Saturday “down on the Shore Road. I’ll put you to work on the Bedford Place.” I stayed for the next 6 summers.

It took up 17 acres, mostly on the Sound. I spent all day cutting the front and back yard of the house, with a 6-foot Locke mower. I started at $1.10 an hour, for an 8-hour day.

There was a greenhouse where we grew cut flowers for the main house, and a truck farm across the road. I was in charge of storing a year’s supply of coal to fire the furnace for the greenhouse. A truck came at the beginning of June, and dumped a small mountain of coal. It took me 6 days — 8 hours a day — to move the coal into the bin.

The main house included a big game trophy room, and models of hulls of 12-meter racing boats.

The Bedford estate (front view).

The Bedford estate (front view).

The dock went probably 120 feet into the Sound. A little house at the end received guests in bad weather. Stairs went down into the water, to ease passengers onto the dock and walkway that led to the expansive backyard and rear entrance to the main house.

Mr. Bedford kept a long, black Cadillac limo for trips to his homes in New York and Palm Beach.

The Bedford estate gardens.

The Bedford estate gardens.

Numerous car commercials were shot on the estate, especially the semicircular pea gravel driveway. Every Friday I raked all the tire tracks from the driveway, in preparation for the weekend. It was so long, the job took 4 hours. I also weeded the driveway.

One day I was clearing brush. Mr. Gordon was talking to the man who owned the property next door. It was J.C. Penney himself. We were never introduced.

My favorite times were Friday evenings, at quitting time. Mr. Gordon would ask if I had a date that night. If I did, he’d whip up a corsage of carnations or other flowers for my date. If I was staying home, he’d make up an arrangement for my mom.

When I was in college, Mr. Gordon occasionally let me take dates down to the dock, to swim. He told me to be very discreet, however. And I was.

Charlie Taylor, today.

Charlie Taylor, today.

Mr. Gordon sent me on some dangerous assignments, like 50 feet into huge old elm trees to prune, or onto chimneys at the main house to cut back ivy. But I gained confidence during those summers. I learned to work and give all-out effort. He accepted nothing less than the best. There were no slackers on the Bedford payroll.

He made me very proud of myself. When he chewed me out, I deserved it. More to the point, he explained why he was chewing me out, and the importance of doing a good job.

I owe Westport, and the Bedfords, a lot. Miss Ruth, if you read this, thanks for the week I caught poison ivy so bad that when I showed up for work with a face and fingers so swollen, you sent me home — but you still paid me my $80 for the week I missed. I learned a lot from you too, Miss Ruth. Thank you.

(Charlie Taylor is now a senior development officer at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. He’s also a long-time musician. To keep busy while mowing the Bedford lawn, he made up song lyrics. He later studied songwriting at UCLA, and worked with musicians like Gram Parsons, Billy Preston and others.)

The Saddest Estate Sale Ever

On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about the sign for this estate sale:

Estate sale

Any Westporter knows it refers to an event in the Gault Park section of town, off Cross Highway.

But if you’re not from here, it takes on a whole different meaning.

(Hat tip to Bruce Borner, for first posting this sign on Facebook.)

Max’s Art Supplies: A Friend Remembers

Monday’s story about the end of Max’s Art Supplies’ 59-year run made many readers think about what the store meant to them.

Alert reader John Kennedy sent along these thoughts:

When I first returned home, I was going to be an illustrator. This is what I had been in the Air Force and it was what I wanted to do as a civilian. Max’s was the store I went to.

Westport had always been a center of excellence and I was determined to be a success. I thought that to be part of the scene, I must “make the scene.”

So I went in and picked up a shading stomp, some charcoal pencils, a couple of pads and a kneaded eraser. The bill was about $20, but I didn’t have enough money. I started to put some things back, when Max stepped up. He said, “an artist needs his tools. I’ll give you credit.” Max told Shirley to open an account for me. I had no credit. It was 1970. I had just been discharged. With a smile, Max said, “I trust you.”

I walked out with everything. In a month I paid him back.

One of John Kennedy's first paintings.

One of John Kennedy’s first paintings.

From that I went on to work for the New York Times company through Golf Digest and Tennis Magazines. Then more magazines. I illustrated a bit, designed books, ran an internet agency. All the time, Max’s was my go-to place. As a director, I could send others to Max’s, and I did.

Then the world changed. With the computer, publishers no longer cared about quality. They took design and excellence, and turned it over to lesser staff to “just get it out.” Illustration was done in the box. All the skill, talent, education and technique disappeared. Today, one by one, the artists are leaving us. They are replaced by wannabe idiots who know nothing, and do little but talk.

Today I will visit Shirley, Nina and Jay. I will bring in coffee and we will once again relive, for one bright shining moment, the years of real and true art.

I am the last of my breed. When Max’s leaves, I will hide and let the world only wonder what true art is. Nobody cares. We are a community, we are the artists, Shirley’s, Nina’s and Jay’s guys. I am the last director.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.

 

WWPT-FM Rocks On

Forty years ago, Staples was the 1st public high school in Connecticut with an FM radio station.

It’s still one of the only ones.

As you drive around today, you should check out WWPT — 90.3 FM. (Better yet: click here, then click the Westport Public Schools logo.) They’re celebrating 4 decades of music, sports, news and talk with a special program.

WWPT's 40th-anniversary poster pays homage to another great musical event: Woodstock.

WWPT’s 40th-anniversary poster honors another great musical event: Woodstock.

These days, it’s easy to put down everything teen-related. We hear it all the time: They only care about themselves. They don’t know how to work hard. Their music sucks.

Listening to today’s 40th-anniversary celebration may surprise you. They’re paying homage to 4 decades of former staff members who laid the foundation for today. They’re producing a mammoth day-long event. And they’re playing great music (including live concerts at noon and 3 p.m.).

Staples Class of 1971 alum Fred Cantor was listening to WWPT's show this morning. He headed to the studio, and shared his memories of bands like the Remains with faculty advisor Mike Zito.

Staples Class of 1971 alum Fred Cantor was listening to WWPT’s show this morning. He headed to the studio, and shared his memories of bands like the Remains with faculty advisor Mike Zito.

WWPT-FM has launched the careers of dozens of Staples grads. Many others just had a great time there.

The tradition continues, 40 years on.

Tune in. You won’t be singing, “What’s the matter with kids today…”

The WWPT (90.3 FM) studios include space for live concerts. Bands play at 12 and 3 p.m. today.

The WWPT (90.3 FM) studios include space for live concerts. Bands play at 12 and 3 p.m. today.